Four mighty rivers are going to devour the country's 3,700 hectares or 37 sq-km of land in the next one year, causing a huge loss of homesteads and livelihoods, according to the prediction of environmental research firm CEGIS.
Major bank erosion will take place at 48 places along an 210km stretch of the Jamuna, Ganges, Padma and Meghna rivers, it says, adding that of the total land area exposed to erosion, 485 hectares have human settlements and structures including 64 schools, 40 mosques and 12 government and non-government offices.
River erosion displaces people, destroys cropland, decreases livelihood assets, and traps the victims in a cycle of poverty, said Waji Ullah, executive director of the Centre for Environment and Geographic Information Services (CEGIS), addressing a seminar in the capital.
Early warning of river erosion therefore is most important to prevent the silent disaster, said Muhammad Nazrul Islam, state minister for water resources.
CEGIS and Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) jointly organised the seminar on river bank erosion at Brac Centre Inn.
Citing the findings of BWDB, Dr Zafar Ahmed, secretary to the ministry, said the country lost 6,000 hectares of land annually, affecting at least one lakh people.
He admitted that there was no exact number of people affected by river erosion but said bank protection and dredging must be treated as a development agenda.
In Bangladesh, conservation and utilisation of river resources should be the most important development issue, he said, but in 90 percent of cases construction of structures like buildings and roads was considered development.
Despite waste of money and alleged corruption of the Water Development Board, it is worth investing in river bank protection, flood control programmes, and dredging, as they bear immense importance for people's lives and livelihoods, the speakers said.
Prof Ainun Nishat, a water expert and vice chancellor of Brac University, presided over the discussion, while Dr Maminul Haque Sarker, deputy executive director of CEGIS, and Md Shahidur Rahman, director general of BWDB, spoke among others.